Saturday, December 18, 2010

Week 15 picks (part1)

It's that time again. Sunday picks part 1. New Orleans Saints @ Baltimore Ravens: Great. First game up and I'm stuck. Ultimately I have to pick one of these two teams, but the problem is that every time I pick against either team it comes back to bite me in the butt. So either way I'm bound to lose. I'm destined by the gods of football to be cursed to defeat. A bit like the Lions on the road. I have to pick somebody though and the teams don't make it easy. The Saints are slipping under the radar somewhat with the success of the Falcons being the main storyline in the NFC South. It looks like New Orleans is almost destined now to at least take a wild card spot. But they're far from perfect. Drew Brees is throwing touchdowns. But he's also throwing interceptions; more than usual. The rushing attack is back up and running, but it still struggles from time to time. The defense is creating turnovers, but not as frequently as it did last year. In essence, everything that went right for the Saints last year is sort of going right again this year. Baltimore is also having a mini-but-not-quite revival. Their defense is playing superbly. Terrell Suggs in particular is having a great year. But at times they struggle on the back end. It looks distinctly like Ed Reed might have lost a step. Couple that with an offense that seems to suffer from periodic bouts of poor execution in both pass protection and play-calling (especially late in games) and you have a recipe for a team that can win big games... and can just as easily shoot itself in the foot. Weighing all the factors into it, I think the Saints might just sneak this one. Their receivers against the Ravens secondary is a good match up. Their O-line is pretty stout and their defense shouldn't have to do anything spectacular against an offense that has no identity or consistency. Saints win. Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers: Oh my god. Someone is actually going to have to sit and watch this game. Poor sods. So the craptastic Cardinals travel to the equally craptastic Panthers to play a game that sadly could potentially kick start the 4-9 Cardinals into making a recovery and going on to win the NFC West. Only in the NFC West could this even be plausible. So who wins? (who cares?) God love them, because nobody else does, I think it may just be Carolina. I say this because personally I think both teams are horrible, but on balance the Panthers may just be a little less horrible. I trust their defense a little more than I trust the Cardinals. It's not like Carolina to do me any favours though, so this probably has "bad pick" written all over it. Ah well, screw it. Panthers win. Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals: Colt McCoy returns to the starting line up as the Browns finally learn the lesson that everyone else did about a year ago; Jake Delhomme sucks. Luckily for the Browns, so do the Bengals. This game is more about pride than anything else, and you just get that sense that the Browns still have some pride left. That, and the fact that the Bengals suck. So, Browns win. Washington Redskins @ Dallas Cowboys: Speaking of teams that suck... the Washington Redskins! (See that segue? Smooth as silk). We'll get into this more lately, but in summary the Redskins are currently in self destruct mode. The only possible explanation for what's happening in Washington is that they're in the market for a QB and want to pick as early as possible come next April. Because (I know! Grammar) this surely can't be a team that wants to win games. Otherwise they wouldn't have so horrendously botched their 2 minute drill at the end of the first half last week. They wouldn't have wasted the talents (and money) of Albert Haynesworth just so that Mike Shanahan could win the chest thumping competition. And they wouldn't have benched McNabb who, while having his occasional moments of pure mediocrity, has still been pretty good. We'll get into this deeper, later. For now, suffice to say that morale in Washington seems to be at an all time low. The quality of their play is at an all time low. And the quality of their coaching is at an all time low. The Cowboys should walk this. In theory. Cowboys win. Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts: Christ, am I really about to say this; The Jaguars are one win away from clinching the AFC South. There you go. I said it. One win away. All the Jaguars have to do is beat the Colts (easy as that) and they're playoff bound. Somehow. At the start of the season I would have given you 50-1 odds that the Jaguars would make the playoffs and I would have smiled as I gleefully took your money and stowed it away safe. Skip forward a few months and I would be anxiously biting my nails to the bone, praying that somehow Peyton Manning could perform a miracle. Of course there is currently nobody better to have on the football field when you need a miracle than Manning. Even short of a few key weapons, Manning is still lethal. Lost in the clamour to deride the Colts for their recent losing streak was the fact that Manning has still been throwing for a ridiculous number of yards. Take out his more recent interceptions and I remember someone working it out that Manning would be completing 80% of his passes, despite throwing in excess of 40 times per game. That's just crazy. Or lucky. Or very good. Or a combination of all those things. And as much as I like Maurice Jones-Drew (with the exception of his end zone celebrations) and as much as I like Rashad Jennings, having spent the best part of 12 months championing him, I still like the Colts more. Their defense may struggle to contain the run, but I think the Jaguars secondary is going to struggle even more to contain Manning and his hi-octane attack. Looks like I might be holding on to that bet money for a little longer. Colts win. Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins: Two teams. No more dreams. At least this year. So it comes down to divisional pride once more, and I'm not sure how much the Dolphins have left, because they just seem deflated lately. Whether it's the departure of Bill Parcells, their poor home record (1-5), the controversy at quarterback, or some other mysterious reason, the Dolphins appear to be in the mood to just pack up and go back into hibernation for the winter. Not so the Bills, who have fought tooth and nail this year since Ryan Fitzpatrick was installed as the starter. Shame that they're just not very good really. But a bad Bills team could just well be a match for a battered and broken Dolphins team. I'm reminded of one of my favourite coaching phrases that I unashamedly stole from a high school coach; "Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard." The Dolphins are probably slightly more talented, but the Bills look harder working. I've also noticed that this is the second season in a row that a Mike Nolan coached defense has flopped in the second half of the season. Bills win. Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants: The prime clash of the weekend goes down in the New Meadowlands as the Eagles visit the Giants for a game that could potentially decide the NFC East this season. The loser would still have a good crack at the playoffs through a wild card berth, but obviously both teams would be happier with the win and the prospect of automatic qualification. Which means all bets are off. Both teams are likely to bring a higher level of intensity. Both coaches will be digging deep and staying up late to put all the final touches and odd tweaks on the game plan. Its game time! Hyperbole done, who wins? The Eagles with their explosive offense and slightly unstable defense, or the Giants with their rugged & athletic D tied to an offense that can be so-so? I think New York has the edge. Last time these two came face to face, the Giants figured out a plan for keeping Michael Vick in check. They executed it well and it nearly paid off. Unfortunately, Eli "butter fingers" Manning ran for a first down and then promptly fumbled the ball away in comical fashion. Since that game the Giants defense has gotten even more dangerous. Rookie Jason Pierre-Paul has been coming alive, as has the rest of the front seven. More importantly, so has the Giants offense. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw have been a revelation in the past two weeks. They're simply putting up ridiculous numbers on the ground, smashing defenses out of the way and scooting untouched to the end zone as if it were a routine thing for NFL running backs. The ease with which they have carved up defenses, coupled with stout play from their own defense leads me to believe it will be a happy revenge game for the Giants. Giants win. Kansas City Chiefs @ St. Louis Rams: What we're looking at is potentially two Western division champions. Potentially. That cause will be hampered by the fact that they have to play each other on Sunday afternoon (Eastern). But can the Chiefs overcome their terrible road record to pull out the win, or will the Rams remain reasonably solid at home and take another step closer to winning the west? Put simply, you can't trust the Chiefs on the road. Especially if they're missing Matt Cassel again. I also don't trust the Chiefs to run the ball, which is where there greatest strength lies with the one-two punch of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. I've seen it too many times. I put faith in a team to do the right thing and they don't. (Wait, didn't I just back the Giants based on them doing the right thing...) With or without Cassel at quarterback, the Chiefs routinely struggle through the air. While Dwayne Bowe making great touchdown grabs might make the highlight reels, the truth is that the Chiefs are not a premier passing team. That's not what they do. It's not "who they are". Yet last week we saw an abundance of poor Brodie Croyle who was thrust into action against a brutal Chargers defense. The Chiefs have to reverse that trend this week, but hoping that they will is not sufficient for me to pick them. As I said, too many times I have relied on a good team doing what seemed logical and thus ended up getting burnt when they threw out the rule book and went spread offense on my ass. So with that in mind I'm taking the Rams. They have a pretty good team of their own now. RB Steven Jackson and QB Sam Bradford seem to complement each other well. They have a pass rush which has mysteriously evolved out of nothing over the course of the season. Sometimes they even make big plays on defense. Sometimes. Rams win. Detroit Lions @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers: This is what happens when you use planned parity. You get Lions vs Buccaneers games. Which actually isn't that bad. Both teams have significantly upgraded themselves for this season, though only one team seems to have found a way to consistently turn upgrades into wins. The Lions have been good. At times great. But they lack that cutting edge, that killer instinct. They've also been done by shitty officiating in two games against the Bears, but that's something they can't control and sadly the things they can control they just don't control very well. It's like an uncontrolled demolition (point belaboured and murdered). The Buccaneers are the opposite. At times they've been staring certain defeat in the eyes and yet somehow have a knack of squeezing out of tight spots. When they do, they then go into assassin mode and finish off opponents mercilessly. Kind of. That's why I have to take Tampa Bay. Relatively speaking the Lions probably have more talent on their roster, but they never seem to be able to get all that talent working at once towards a unified goal. The Buccaneers meanwhile line up and just let LeGarrette Blount pound and beat the opposition into submission, before Josh Freeman applies the coup de grace. It's not as pretty and it's susceptible to being exposed by the better teams, but against teams like the Lions it gets the job done. Fire The Cannons! Buccaneers win. Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans: This should be pretty easy, mainly because of how bad the Titans are. I'm not saying that the Texans are saints, immune to any and all criticism. But they're not the Titans. Which is lucky for Houston because the Titans are bad right now. They have almost no sense of direction. Coach Jeff Fisher seems resigned to the fact that as the weeks pass it becomes more and more apparent that he will lose his job at the end of the season. The Vince Young fiasco may have been tipping the point. Now put that up against the Texans, who fought valiantly to drag themselves back into last Mondays game against the Ravens. Admittedly they wouldn't have had to drag themselves back if it weren't for their inept defense and poor special teams coverage, but that's not the point. The Titans are nowhere close to being an offensive threat and the Texans know it. Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson should have a feast, joined later in the game by Arian Foster. Texans win. So that's part one of my week 15 picks all done and dusted. The rest will follow tomorrown. But before I head to bed and you head to... wherever it is you're headed, there's just time to indulge in some slightly unnecessary but ultimately rewarding bashing of Well, partly. First off they did post a good article regarding the benching of Donovan McNabb. Apparently Mike Shanahan wants Rex Grossman to start and wants to see how John Beck will perform in the "number 2 role". I'm sorry? The number 2 role? As in, how does John Beck cope with standing on the sideline and doing precisely jack shit during the game while Grossman is out on the field filling the only real QB role available on the team. Now I have no issues with the Grossman part of it. McNabb has been good in general but hasn't exactly lit up the world and is prone to mistakes at critical moments, usually trying to bounce the ball off the turf to his receivers as if it were a basketball game. I get that. I understand that you want to test Grossman out to see if he will be any better for next year. But to demote McNabb to number 3 on the depth chart and say that you want to see how John Beck performs as a number 2? That's just downright disrespectful to someone who has tried to stay cool and calm during his tenure and has tried to maintain an air of professionalism around his team. This is basically a kick in the teeth. What exactly is John beck going to do on Sunday as the "number 2 guy" ........... ? Precisely; fuck all. This is nothing more than a petty snub at McNabb by Shanahan, trying to divert blame onto him for the franchises failings this season. Heaven forbid anyone should point the finger at Mike Shanahan, the great Shanahan who has fallen very rapidly from the lofty highs of football coaching fame ever since losing John Elway to retirement. And most of all old Mike has to protect and mask the ineptitude of his son Kyle Shanahan as the offensive coordinator, or else some might begin to question whether Shanahan the younger isn't just riding his fathers name to get along in the NFL. Not that I might be suggesting the NFL is one big 'old boys' club.... Next from is the Friday 10 pack by Mike Florio, in particular focusing on item 2. According to Florio, Ravens QB Joe Flacco is an elite quarterback and Falcons QB Matt Ryan is not, based entirely on playoff records. Personally I think neither of them has been around long enough to be considered "Elite", but if push came to shove I'd take Ryan over Flacco in a heartbeat. See, what Florio seems to be missing is that while indeed Flacco has the greater number of playoff wins, that's not what the question of elite quarterbacks is about. The Ravens have won the games they have under Flacco largely because of a combination of their defense and Ray Rice. If anything, Flacco has been holding back a very good team that arguably should have been to another Super Bowl by now. Contrast that with Ryan, who has been a quality quarterback that has lead his offense well, been hailed as a great leader on the team and this season has earned a reputation for being a "clutch" QB (which makes all the more puzzling Florio's assertion that; "This year, we’d rather have Flacco under center in a money game, especially if that game is being played away from home.") What has held back Ryan in his career so far is a defense that has taken till 2010 to become truly competitive. Even then they often have a habit of leaving the door just slightly ajar for the opposition, forcing Ryan to Cooley drive down the field in the last few minutes in order to slam that door shut. To me, trying to suggest the notion that Flacco is a superior QB to Ryan is as obviously ludicrous as trying to convince someone that a lump of coal is much brighter than a snowball. But then I've come to expect such ridiculousness from Mike Florio of late. Tit. And finally from the hallowed pages of, Michael David Smith tries to convince the world that somehow Miles Austin has had his talent drained away by a mysterious force and is no longer worthy of the contract extension he received. I find this hard to believe. Minus Tony Romo, everyone on the Cowboys team has suffered a dip in their numbers. Part of this is strategic. Part of this is Kitna's struggles with the deep ball. Very little of it seems to be Austins fault. The impression I get from the article is that the author wants to make Jerry Jones look silly (not usually a hard thing) for paying Austin. But the fact is that with the ball in his hands this season, Austin has been every bit as good as he was last year. If the Cowboys could just find more ways to feed the monster then I'm sure he'd happily indulge himself with a nice serving of yards and touchdowns. Have a great day everyone. (E-mail any abuse to: )

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